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Dr. Cathleen Mann Reviews Steven Hassan’s Latest (self-published) Book

August 28, 2012

Dr. Cathleen Mann, a court-recognized expert in the area of cults, has written a review of Steven Hassan’s latest self-published book, Freedom of Mind.  She has done an excellent job of succinctly summarizing the major problems with Hassan’s unsupported theories and claims that he has been making for years, while being uncritically accepted by a certain segment of ex-cult members (Anton Hein’s unsubstantiated assertions are a prime example). Self-proclaimed anti-cult “experts” would do well to take note of the last paragraph of Dr. Mann’s review:

It is interesting to note that on page 25 under the condition “thought control,” is listed the “[r]ejection of rational analysis, critical  thinking and constructive criticism”. This is an excellent point and one that should be followed by every cult critic, cult interventionist, professional counselor, or expert. This would include accepting criticism without becoming defensive and the ability to see and correct problems. Debate should be based upon rational analysis. A person working in the cult recovery or education field should endeavor to emulate these characteristics. It is incumbent upon him or her to model this behavior, as it is the rejection of such values that quite often forms the basis for criticizing the leaders and dynamics of cults.

Pseudoscience and unsupported claims within the “anti-cult” community that tend to pathologize anyone who has been in a “cult” group as well as the problems with bracket creep in models of so-called “cults”, is an area that has received far too little attention, in my opinion and this is a good start.

Go here to read the review.

Here is some further response from Dr. Mann in response to some recent comments on this review:

In terms of research with cult members, current or past, there are many ethical issues. I will attempt to explain the strengths and weakness of the Snapping study in a subsequent post. There have been other attempts to study the effects of cult activity on individuals, but due to the limitations of IRB boards and selection problems, these results have been mixed.
Therefore, it is important to realize that no one can claim superior methods over another because there is nothing to back this up. It’s fine to say that the methods used by any in the cult recovery field are theories based on some general research in psychology, but the SIA approached generated by Steve Hassan has no research support. Thus, it is not possible to say that his approach achieves greater success rates or even helps ex cult members. There is a rich and vast trove of research from social psychology and other disciplines that informs the treatment of cult members. When I testify in court and go through the qualification process, I am able to cite and apply the latest research, on all sides of the issue.
In March of 1996, in the case of Kendall v. Kendall, the United States District Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts declined to quality Hassan as an expert witness. Hassan’s disclosure in this one and only attempt shows that he was charging $200 per hour for preparation and $1,500 per day for his “expert testimony” on new religions, yet he had never testified in court before and his only qualification was a a degree in counseling from Cambridge College, a school that accepts life experience as a substitute for coursework. In March of 1996, in the case of Kendall v. Kendall, the United States District Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts also rejected Hassan as an expert witness. Hassan’s disclosure in this case shows that he was charging $200 per hour for preparation and $1,500 per day for his “expert testimony” on new religions, yet he had never testified in court before. Nor could show that he deserved such an exorbitant fee.
The criticism of Hassan’s methodology, his marketing strategy, his unusually high fees, and the fact that he claims relationships and associations with other experts is very much overdue. I have had a personal relationship with Hassan until 2009. We discussed things freely, yet there were many issues that he failed to resolve. Hassan denies this, but he knows exactly why our relationship was terminated by me as a last resort. I have observed Hassan in interactions with fellow professionals, current and former cult members, friends, and family. I have worked on legal cases where he has previously done an intervention. Hassan relies on the fact that most people believe his marketing approach and do not know him personally.
My review of Hassan’s latest book was not undertaken lightly. I believe that his books and claims contain misleading information, do not reflect current understanding of how to work with current or former cult members, do not show an attempt to update his skills or knowledge, and he does not attempt at any level to truly work collegially with anyone. He also refuses to discuss any challenges to his work or claims, but sends others to advocate for him, usually individuals that have no personal experience with him outside of a business relationship.


  1. This sounds more like a personal attack on Steven Hassan than a factual review. Obviously in a field that isn’t even fully recognized by psych experts, one has to formulate and learn on their own. My beliefs and techniques over the last 30 years since leaving the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters, working 6 years for $14 a month in a Brooklyn commune taught me how to use the approach that works the best for me. And it has. A lot depends on a person’s personality of course more than intellectual knowledge… the initial approach is the most critical time.

    Cathleen says,

    “What authority then, outside of Hassan himself, has officially recognized him as an expert concerning cults? For that matter has an authority officially recognized Hassan as an expert in anything?”

    Sounds pretty harsh to me. What kind of authority has recognized Cathleen or Rick Ross as an expert in cults? I don’t think we have arrived at that point yet. Does doing old-style deprogramming in a forceful manner qualify a person? That involves a lot of little and even bigger white lies to pull off. Very questionable ethics. But we have hopefully grown out of that… besides it is usually illegal.

    I have worked with Steven on several exit-counselings over the years. I don’t agree with all his ideas, but that is just observations from my own personal experiences. I consider myself better in working with Jehovah’s Witnesses than Steven does. But that is my history and area of expertise. I take a more primal, visceral approach. I don’t generally use his models or “points,” but I have learned a lot working with him. I think his kind-heartedness is his most effective tool, and his openness to his own experiences in the Moon organization.

    I agree that Steven could do a better job in analyzing the various techniques of others in the field and mention them, but that is his choice.

    There are a few good experts out there (I have retired from that scene… being more of a product of the “former” Cult Awareness Network) but still stay in touch with some of the effective counselors. I have learned from all of them.

    May we all work together to realize that human personal interaction is more important than polemics in the end. Kudos to all those who are seeking to educate people about cults… which I believe in the following years, as a few opportunists get more clever in misleading others and the less-educated are willing to follow them (especially in political arenas), that we will see a much greater disparity between the predators and their victims. While religious cults may not rise much in numbers, high-control groups most certainly will, in my opinion.

    Randall Watters
    Free Minds, Inc.

    • Hi Randy,

      I’m not at all surprised that you would defend Steve Hassan. You ask by what authority Cathleen Mann and Rick Ross are experts. For one thing, in the legal system. Both have passed expert witness examinations and been qualified in a court of law, something Steve Hassan failed to do, the last and as far as I know, the only time he tried in Kendall v Kendall. It is not an easy task to qualify in a Daubert hearing and Cathleen Mann has accomplished this a number of times, so yes, it is possible to be a credible, evidence-based cult expert.

      Being in a new field is no excuse for going out on ones own and not being evidence-based. At the very least, he could stop with the grandiose, unsupported claims that he and his methods are superior to everyone else. Since the publication of his first book, unfortunately Steve has a habit of doing this, so understandably he has alienated people.

      Cathleen Mann’s review is not a personal attack. She brings up relevant issues and I fully agree with her that it is of utmost importance that someone who professes to stand for critical thinking and fighting cult-like thinking, practice what he preach.

      • Hi Monica,
        You say, “he could stop with the grandiose, unsupported claims that he and his methods are superior to everyone else.” I am not aware of such grandiose statements. Could you provide references?

      • Randy, if you would bother to read this blog, I have given plenty of links to references to support my statements. Are you kidding? Just have a look at his website. It is full of grandiose, unsupported claims and several of his colleagues have called him out on this. Just ask him to tell you about what happened in an exit counselors meeting at the old CAN in 1992, where a number of his exit counselor colleagues called him on the carpet for distributing a paper where he was claiming superiority. I was the only one there who defended him. This is far from the personal vendetta you misportray, Randy. Get real. His unsupported claims of superiority continue to this day. This is how he justifies his high fees. He repeatedly told me that no one else in the world does what he does, as a rationalization for what he charges.

      • Hi Monica, perhaps you know of examples I don’t, but I’m not making a judgment yet. Anyway, I still care for you much and would like to see you someday. No hard feelings, it just seemed harsh. I’ll agree that he does charge a high price!

  2. drcmann permalink

    It’s interesting to me how Steve Hassan seems to get everyone else to “defend” him, yet, he never responds himslef. Why is that? . I’ve known him for over 20 years. He thinks he is immune to criticism. If my points are wrong or inaccurate, then Steve can post the nature of the inaccuracies for discussion, but he won[‘t do that. The fact that most theories are not “proven” or supported is exactly the reason why one individual, such as Steve Hassan, should not be putting forth his theories as superior or with better results. He misleads people and has nothing to back his outrageous claims with in any way. I think Steve Hassan should apply the same rules to himself that he demands of cult leaders. And, yes, I am expert as noted, being qualified by a judge in a legal proceeding in 12 states. I have an outside authority that maintans my status as an expert. I challenge Steve to be quailfied as an expert in a court of law using his theories. The other main issue is that Steve does not respect the ideas of others. His latest book is full of borrowed ideas taken from a long tradition of social psychology and other fields and there is not one footnote, not one reference, or even a suggestion that he is claiming the ideas of others as his own.

    Cathleen Mann, PhD

    • Jonathan Entero permalink

      Cathleen Mann,

      This is off topic but would you consider all religious to be classified as cults? I ask this because the impression that I got from Releasing the bonds was the Hassan used the term “destructive cults” implying those religious that use all 3 of Festingers and 1 of Hassans components for mind control, to avoid using the word cult that could imply just 1 of the 4 components, meaning his own belief in Judaism could be classified as a cult.

      As for your review I think it’s fair, I do own Combating and Releasing but not Freedom, his two books are repetitive and I dislike what he said about Festinger in his second book, and how Hassan stated the problem of systematic prayer in his first book and nothing in his second. However when many read combating it almost sounds like Hassan is talking to the readers specific cult, that was my impression, I who was a Jehovah’s witness, I still consider it a great book but I have not read others.

      Either way I think criticism is important.



      • Thank you for your response and yes, I agree that criticism is important!

        Just to clarify, the three components from Festinger were from his theory of cognitive dissonance. He never called them “components of mind control” although he did write about a UFO cult. That is Hassan’s doing and the way he has stretched his quite superficial understanding of cognitive dissonance theory and relabeled it as “mind control”.

        The problem with is BITE model is that it does indeed fit most religions and many other types of groups as well. In other words, it yields many false positives. I daresay many graduate students could apply the BITE model to their PhD programs and athletes to their sports teams.

        That being said, knowing both Cathleen Mann and Steve Hassan, neither would consider all religions as cults (Hassan identifies himself as Jewish), although Hassan’s model inadvertently may do this.

      • drcmann permalink

        No, I don’t consider all religions to be cults. In fact, it is a myth that cults are religious, when we have political, commerical, and therapy cults. I don’t determine whether a group is a cult based on beliefs, but on practices. I agree that the inclusion of beliefs in Hassan’s latest book is troubling, misleading, and unfair. He’s not supposed to judge the belief system of another group, especially since he is a self proclaimed religious person himself. My point in doing the review was to point out that “America’s #1 exit counselor” is not him, and that he continues to repeat the same thing over and over and thinks he should have automatic adulation foer it. It’s very cult like in my view. Also, he never addresses any of these concerns, but sends other people to do it. This is a pattern that is used in cults, as well.

    • Cathleen, you are accusing myself and others of being Steven Hassan’s “shills” to defend himself. Not once has he asked me to do any such thing, and has never had a bad word to say about you. Perhaps that speaks more of his character than those who make such allegations without any proof whatsoever. It’s interesting to me how you imply that Steven Hassan seems to get everyone else to “defend” him. I do not agree with a few of Mr. Hassan’s ideas. I am not his “lacky.” I do not even believe in the same method of exit-counseling anymore, as taught by him or someone else!

      One would expect proof of your allegations. Is this “court reporting” or simply yellow journalism?

  3. drcmann permalink

    Often people perceive any criticism of a sacred cow as an “attack” because they are uncomfortable with the content. Hassan is long overdue for some robust criticism. He has a history of defelecting any dissent, yet, he criticizes others freely.

    Cathleen Mann, PhD

    • Jonathan Entero permalink

      Monica Pignotti, is mind control something else? I have heard of other psychologists who used the same term. such as Alison Millers Healing The Unimaginable – Treating Ritual Abuse and Mind Control.

      • If you are asking whether there are different definitions of mind control, yes, that seems to be the case. It is a rather vague term with multiple meanings.Sometimes when people use the term they mean undue influence, whereas others mean something more exotic, such as the way SRA therapists appear to be using the term to mean an alleged conspiracy with sinister plots to take over the world or secret societies operating on a large scale. Some “cult experts” I know of use both meanings.

  4. Whatever the case may be, from the looks of the increases of views of this article on my blog that came from the ex-JW discussion group, it looks like Randy’s postings have lead more people to read Dr. Mann’s review who might not have otherwise known about it.

  5. Hi Monica,
    Long time no see!
    Well then you should be happy about that… I cannot comment on other’s experience with Steve, only my own. So I will not try and refute your experiences. I can only speak for myself. I am not Steve’s PR agent… I have my own working philosophy that does not always jive with his. Perhaps in my next interview with him soon on I will address some of these issues. Steve is a friend, but I always challenge my friends. :-))

  6. I am not impressed with any credentials qualified by courts, especially since the court system and other governmental institutions have constantly empowered cults over the individuals they harm. The right team of high priced lawyers can sway the scales of justice easily enough.

    Reading Combating Cult Mind Control helped me tremendously, and it helped others whom I shared it with. It was liberating. Without it, I’m not sure where I or others would be at right now. I firmly believe the BITE model is a solid description because I lived it.

    I’m sure cults love anything critical of Steven Hassan and the books he has published. This review should be good fodder for them. I suppose without living in a high control group, having a concern for loved ones still in, it is merely academic.

    • Courts have “Constantly empowered cults over the individuals they harm”? Hardly. There are plenty of cases where decisions have ruled against the cult ad awarded the individual. Check out Larry Wollersheim vs. Scientology for a major example of his multi-million dollar judgment.

      As for your testimonial about reading Steve’s book, thanks for sharing. However, if you have a look around you, you can find similar testimonials for Scientology and all kinds of bogus therapies. All of these have true believers who will offer testimonials that the approach saved their lives and that they believe in it.

      You see, courts of law have standards and burdens of proof they must meet and if you are ever falsely accused of anything, I’m sure you will be grateful for that.

      Oh, and by the way, Cathleen Mann and I both have had direct experience living with these high control groups as well. You might want to work on not jumping to unwarranted conclusions that just because someone does not agree with you, they must not have experienced it. One of the most important lessons to learn is that experience is open to interpretation and if we read a narrative, it is easy to make it fit our experiences but that doesn’t make it valid.

    • “Court-appointed” means little in real-life. The government followed advice of cult-related professionals they have worked with in the past regarding the Waco incident and other serious threats to the lives of women and children. They do not take the time or allow funding to carefully scrutinize the effects of brute force on such groups (like rushing in with tanks to incinerate them) , but as a record they have proven they simply don’t understand the dynamics of high-control groups they perceive as hostile to our nation. Our government is not God, and prefers strong-arm tactics. They will often hire whoever will suit their goals above all other considerations.

      Look at the record of experimentation and gross manipulation of volunteer and non-volunteer citizens of the United States and members of the armed forces, whom the U.S. govt. has demonstrated that they will at times treat as guinea pigs in their experimentation. The courts are not always wise and simply reflect the prevailing political attitude of the U.S. government and leaders in high positions.

      History has proven that all methods should be scrutinized before accepting the advice of a court, especially a military court. That is why the U.S. is potentially a great country, as it does not always tolerate what the “prevailing courts” have to say.

      But this matter does not seem to enter into this discussion. Rather it appears to be nothing more than a opinionated personal vendetta, a perfect example of attempting to destroy the credentials and ethics of someone who is a peer in their same filed of expertise. The unfailing negativity of the attacks and snide comments reveal a kind of hatred or jealousy behind them. If Steven Hassan were to respond in like manner, one might be inclined to pay attention. In this case, there is merely a flailing of arms and mouth to attack with clear intention to harm. Hardly a professional attitude.

  7. There are cases where individuals have won, but examples can be found where individuals have lost. Take a case like ‘Paul v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc’, which is an utter travesty of justice. And when groups like these practice “theocratic warfare” or whatever their loaded language calls it, millions suffer.

    Even outside of court, take the IRS deal with Scientology. Yes, today, that group is in rapid retreat, but there are other, larger groups that are wolves in sheep’s clothing and pose greater threats.

    Yes, any group, especially a cult, will put all sorts of positive testimonials about itself and screen out anything that contradicts. The difference between my ‘testimonial’ about reading and sharing information in Combating Cult Mind Control and a testimonial about Scientology, is exactly that: direct, personal experience. I believe myself and what I’ve experienced and no court or any other individual can take that away. I don’t represent a group, I speak as an individual from the heart. Nobody will shun me if I contradict Steve Hassan, nor do I view him or any as my leader.

    Many of my serious mistakes came about because I didn’t take the information found in his book seriously enough. In retrospect, I see had I heeded the advice, had I not thought the people I cared about in the cult were somehow different, things would have turned out with a more positive outcome.

    I cannot speak to the information in regard to ‘therapy’ (a profession I’m somewhat skeptical of) but only in terms of cult awareness and education about mind control. I don’t expect any human to provide the perfect or only Truth on any matter, nor do I have a one-size-fits-all, black-and-white mentality. The perfect can easily get in the way of the good.

    It would be great if you had feedback for Steven Hassan or anyone else, and I’m sure he could improve in many areas, but perhaps this could be done in a way that strengthens the cause, rather than weakening it.

  8. Brain Fart permalink

    I want to be fair to Steve Hassan. I watched a couple of his interviews with Robert Lifton, especially the one titled “Dr. Robert Jay Lifton and Steve Hassan: August 2012”, (posted on youtube and vimeo). I was impressed that SH expressed effusive gratitude and hommage to RL, especially at the end, thanking RL for helping SH understand his Moonie experience and facilitating SH’s career. I think that must be considered profound attribution, albeit perhaps not conforming to third revolution convention, (as described in “Post-Gutenberg Galaxy: The Fourth Revolution in the Means of Production of Knowledge” by Stevan Harnad). At this point, I’m less troubled by SH’s snake-oil salesman’s approach because his critics do such an admirable job of discrediting SH among people who count. But amongst the great unwashed (e.g., myself), SH’s apparent sincerity almost overcomes my skepticism that he’s somehow engaged in another sly, self-promotional ploy.

    Was it just me, or is anyone else slightly creeped-out by how SH seems to promote himself by elevating his self-asserted mentor? At the end, I could almost see SH prompting RL to pass SH the torch of RL’s flame. Perhaps that cynicism reflects more on me than SH, but I see that scene as powerful leverage to call SH to account. If SH is to assume the mantle of RL, SH must follow his mentor’s example and disclaim over-reaching his research. To whatever degree RL might have inspired Margaret Singer to a tragic end, I would be surprised if SH followed her example, unless SH has prepared to answer Dick Anthony’s criticism. Absent recent evidence that SH is capable of that discipline, I would be surprised if SH cobbled together the requisite science to demonstrate a viable theory of subtle physical coercion, e.g., using FMRI brain imaging of subjects under hypnosis. RL seemed quick to caution SH to avoid neglecting psychology in favor of physiology. But I hardly need be a prophet to predict that someone will prove what everyone already knows, i.e., there are subtle means of persuasion that currently escape accountability as actionable undue influence. In the same way that it took some time to prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity empirically, we might expect a psychological theory to emerge before empirical proof. If SH doesn’t do the work, or hire it done, someone ultimately will. There’s not just smoke, there’s fire. The only clinical proof I need is WWII. RL seemed to be groping to explain that empirical evidence. I would argue, someone already has. It only remains for lesser minds to “connect-the-dots”. It’s little different than painting “by the numbers”, a child could do it. That’s why I don’t put it past SH. RL might agree. Perhaps in SH, RL sees the necessary ambition, and glimmers of potential that might bear fruit.

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